For a New Global Climate Deal, All Eyes Are on COP26

The United Nations has convened world leaders many times before to discuss climate change, dating to the 1990s. The next meeting, scheduled for November in Glasgow, may be the most important ever. U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, says COP26 will be the last chance for the world to avoid climate disaster.

1. What is COP26?

It stands for Conference of the Parties, and this year will mark the 26th such meeting. Officials from 197 countries gather in one location for a fortnight of negotiations aimed at solving the climate crisis. It culminates with world leaders turning up to thrash out the final details of a communique. COP26 was due to be held last year but was postponed due to the pandemic. The U.K. and Italy are holding the rotating presidency, with the U.K. taking the lead in organizing the conference.

2. What happens at COP meetings?

They’re a platform for achieving consensus on cutting emissions and adapting to the extreme weather events caused by rising temperatures and sea levels. A sticking point of negotiations over the years has been allowing for poor countries to develop their economies while recognizing that rich nations have grown wealthy because they were able to pollute. In 2009, the COP process suffered a major setback after leaders failed to agree on a global deal in Copenhagen. Six years later, talks were back on track, leading to the Paris Agreement -- the international effort to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, with a “stretch target” of 1.5°C. BloombergNEF calls COP26 “the first concrete test of the Paris Agreement.”

3. Why is this year special?

It’s time for signatory countries to update their initial pledges to help achieve the Paris goals. These promises are called NDCs -- Nationally Determined Contributions -- and most date back to 2016, when the Paris Agreement took effect. It was clear that initial commitments wouldn’t be enough, so countries agreed to come back in 2020 with “enhanced” NDCs. Only a handful were submitted last year, including from the U.K. and the European Union, while some nations, including Russia, said they wouldn’t be increasing their ambition. As a result, this year is expected to see a flurry of new NDCs from the world’s biggest emitters, including China, Japan and South Korea. Biden pledged on April 22 that the U.S., the biggest carbon polluter in history, will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 50%-52% from 2005 levels by the end of the decade, significantly boosting the initial U.S. commitment made under former President Barack Obama.

4. What else is on the agenda?

Some key decisions need to be made on the last remaining details of the Paris deal. Outstanding issues relate to financing, transparency and help for poorer nations to build technical expertise to tackle climate change. At COP25, held in Madrid in 2019, countries tried but failed to create a global carbon-market mechanism that could allow them to generate credits from projects that reduce pollution. The idea is to allow the trade of credits, which in theory pushes funding toward places where the biggest gains can be made most cheaply. The issue is covered in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

5. Might the pandemic interfere with this year’s meeting?

The U.K., as holder of the rotating presidency, and the UN haven’t decided what format it will take. Officials are discussing options for reducing in-person attendance and even potentially delaying the event for a second time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Holding the summit with no changes to the format is “unlikely,” as is a fully virtual conference, according to Yamide Dagnet, who is in close contact with COP participants as director of climate negotiations for the World Resources Institute.

6. Does it matter if it’s on Zoom?

The U.K. government has said it’s working hard to make sure the meeting is held in person, but it still all depends on the pandemic. “The power of having people in a room together is unassailable when you’re trying to negotiate from lots of different positions,” said Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the U.K. minister in charge of climate adaptation issues at COP26.

7. Who’s going?

While the final delegate list has still to be decided, it’s likely to include a raft of world leaders including Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Activist Greta Thunberg has said she might boycott the session to protest vaccine nationalism.

8. Who will host COP27 in 2022?

Next year, the rotating COP presidency will be held by a country in Africa, but it’s still to be decided. So far, only Egypt has put its hat in the ring, but others could still come forward.

The Reference Shelf

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.